The Government is under increasing pressure to use the review of the Coronavirus Act 2020 in two weeks’ time to scrap rules which allow councils to cut people’s care during the pandemic.
More than 60 NGOs and 30 cross-party peers in the House of Lords have called on the Government to end the powers, while polling carried out by YouGov for Liberty found two thirds (67%) of the public think it is “unacceptable” that councils have been able to reduce people’s care.
Under Schedule 12 of the Coronavirus Act – which is up for review in Parliament on 30 September – councils can trigger ‘easements’ which free them from some of their duties to look after people under the Care Act.
Some of the easements allow councils to cease care appointments; absolve them from carrying out care assessments of new needs; and/or the reassessment of care if people’s circumstances change. This has left many people with reductions to the care they needed at the most desperate time.
Since the powers were introduced at least eight councils have used them – but rights groups fear other councils have also been emboldened by the easements, giving them the green light to reduce care.
A statement signed by 62 disability and human rights organisations, which calls for the Government to scrap the easements, has been coordinated by disabled people’s organisations Disability Rights UK and Inclusion London, as well as human rights group Liberty.
It says: “The evidence is clear as to the lethal and disproportionate impact this pandemic has had on disabled people… With the potential of a second wave, it is imperative that the rights of disabled people are protected, not diminished.”
Meanwhile 30 cross-party peers, led by Baronesses Jane Campbell and Tanni Grey-Thompson, have written to the Health Secretary urging him to switch the powers off.
The letter states: “Reductions to care put the rights of disabled people and those who rely on social care at risk and create the opportunity for discrimination to occur.”
Kamran Mallick, Disability Rights UK CEO, said: “Throughout the pandemic we have heard horror stories from disabled people who have had their care cut as a result of easements to the Care Act under the Coronavirus Act. The learning curve on what has worked and what hasn’t in these changing times has been steep. But what we have learnt is this: people suffer too much when the Care Act is not fully in place.
“Two thirds of the population stand with us in saying this: care should not be cut. We are calling on the government to restore all aspects of the Care Act before winter kicks in. We need the means for our health, our independence, and our human rights to be front and centre of our lives again, now.”
Svetlana Kotova, Inclusion London director of campaigns and justice, said: “The Coronavirus pandemic had, and continues to have, a devastating impact on Disabled people with many fearing for their lives and feeling abandoned, forgotten and ignored. For many of us, the situation did not improve after the lockdown was lifted and we are being further marginalised and isolated. Disabled people’s needs and rights were not considered when decisions were made during the pandemic, quite the opposite, the government was quick to diminish our already limited rights. This is totally unacceptable.
“With this campaign, which is led by Disabled people and our organisations and supported by many others, we urge the government to rethink its policy and show its commitment to upholding Disabled people’s rights.
“If the government truly believes in equality for Disabled people, it should use the opportunity of the Coronavirus Act review to restore our rights and show Disabled people that we are valued equally.”
Sam Grant, policy and campaigns manager at Liberty, said: “At the start of the pandemic, alongside disabled people, we raised alarm at how they were being abandoned by the Government’s response. Discrimination against disabled people and all who rely on social care was written into the Coronavirus Act in the forms of rules which allow councils to relax care standards. As a result, across the country people have had vital support stripped away from them just at the very moment they needed it the most.
“Now as the Coronavirus Act comes up for review the Government has a unique chance to, stop, learn and rethink its pandemic response. People want a more caring approach. That means scrapping the Coronavirus Act and turning off the easements which allow councils to relax care standards, and finding a way through this crisis the which keeps all of our rights intact.”